How to be an Existentialist: or How to Get Real, Get a Grip and Stop Making Excuses
by Gary Cox
Continuum, 2009A great introduction to existentialism

This is a great introduction for anyone interested in studying the philosophy of existentialism, and as a ‘handbook’, it highlights the importance of personal freedoms, responsibility and the importance of making, and accepting, clear choices, whether they turn out to be right or wrong.

Cox – a scholar of the work of Jean-Paul Sartre – challenges today’s ‘blame and excuse culture’, where accidents, failures and life problems are explained as somebody else’s fault. He emphasises the importance of taking responsibility for our own lives and decisions and of facing the existential truths of the human condition.

Cox persuades us that existential philosophy is not pessimistic, but uplifting, with the potential to free us from the everyday restrictions and barriers we impose upon ourselves. His key themes include:

  • Personal responsibility
  • Freedom of choice
  • Acting positively rather than simply reacting to life’s events
  • The importance of avoiding bad faith (the habit of self-avoidance)
  • Existence precedes essence – we exist before we have any meaning or purpose: we are physical entities before we have meaning. We must exist to have meaning or purpose
  • Being-for-Others – we are not alone in this world (no man is an island)

Existentialism is not for the faint-hearted. It takes effort! It can be anxiety-provoking to realise that we make our own meaning, that there is no inherent meaning to life and that we have to be responsible for ourselves and our actions.

Cox explains how existentialism holds that we are not fixed beings but always works-in-progress striving towards our future. We are constantly changing and personally evolving. There’s a final irony in the book’s title—one can never ‘be’ an existentialist, one can merely strive to lead an existential life.

Simon Whalley, 
House Therapist

The House Partnership, 26th April 2013